What makes a hotel luxurious?
Picture this. You are walking in a marble lobby of a five star hotel, where you can clearly see yourself in the reflection of the perfectly polished floors, and hear your steps echo across the grandiose hall. You are greeted by gentlemen wearing timeless uniforms, gorgeous flowers adorn the tabletops, and the scent of sandalwood or citrus lingers. All of these are deliberate, none are an afterthought.
Now ask yourself, what does luxury mean to you? Is it the environment, the ambiance, the people, or the decor?
Certainly, all of the above are factors. However, what if I told you that it was the act of tailoring your guest experience to your wishes—the act of personalization? What if I were to tell you that there is a whole team hidden away in the woodwork of luxury hotels researching you, looking at your Instagram, LinkedIn or even searching your name in the database of the hotel itself. They will need to know how many luggage racks you may need, whether you prefer Evian or Voss, or if you have any dietary restrictions even before notifying the hotel. They exist to satisfy and exceed expectations.
The entire backstage process is intense. Picture room of researchers drafting emails to be sent across all departments about your preferences and your potential needs. Also, there is such a phenomenon as “mystery guests”, who are the Michelin men of the hospitality industry. Hotel staff message external hotel workers to find out if there is an undercover inspector in town.
It may all be glamorous on the outside but trust me on the other side of the hotel walls, there is an inspection going on that even Sherlock Holmes would be proud of.
What if I told you that I was one of those people? I worked in Guest Relations as a Lobby Ambassador at a luxury hotel, which entailed creating the guest experience from start to finish. César Ritz, the creator of the Ritz Hotels once said: “Never say no when a client asks for something, even if it is the moon. You can always try, and anyhow there is plenty of time afterwards to explain that it was not possible.” Luxury hospitality workers are expected to serve at a certain standard, yes, but we are also required to sell a dream, a fantasy, and we can only do so by personalizing and figuring out solutions that go beyond expectations.
I would like to finish this piece with an anecdote. I had an elderly couple visit the hotel that I was interning in for their anniversary. The husband approached and said “I want something special done for tomorrow, as it is our wedding anniversary”. The anxious intern in me was extremely nervous because the guest had not stated any details, and I did not want to disappoint. As they were elderly, there was no way of finding out valuable information online in relation to their online presence. So, I employed the second skill that they taught me: the art of observation. The wife was amazed by the calla lilies in the entrance of the hotel. I remarked to her, “They are beautiful, no?” She told me that these were the exact flowers that were in her bouquet when she got married. Bingo. I called the kitchen and the best florist in town, and the next morning, when they went sightseeing I arranged to have their room filled with calla lilies and petals, alongside a bottle of champagne, a letter with a quote from Plato where he describes how soulmates came to be. It was romantic and unforgettable, sentimental and personal.
Luxury hospitality is indeed difficult to describe, but the best way is to define it it is the act of tailoring an experience, a play if you will, where one needs to pay attention to the slightest of details to figure out a mystery. Hospitality workers are people pleasers by nature, and it all depends on how much they can push ourselves to create an unforgettable experience for guests. That’s the best-kept secret of the industry.
#LBSSphiloxenia, by @irirkay, BBA in International Hospitality Management student at Glion Institute of Higher Education